by Sarah Emerson
Periods suck, and I think we all know it. Too much has been written about the poetic pain of monthly cramps—so I'll spare you the uterine eulogy—but if there's one thing that hasn't been talked about enough, it's the biological mechanism behind premenstrual syndrome.
For the uninitiated, premenstrual symptoms are as follows: intense abdominal pain, headache, lethargy, nausea, irritability, and mood swings.
But despite the fact that nearly half of the world's population experiences PMS at one point or another, doctors still aren't entirely sure what causes it.
Now, new evidence suggests that PMS is brought on by acute inflammation linked to a certain biomarker called C-reactive protein (CRP). According to a study published this week in the Journal of Women's Health, women who reported painful periods showed elevated levels of CRP, and would likely benefit from anti-inflammatory medications.
Approximately 80 percent of all women experience PMS, and 50 percent of them seek medical help for their symptoms, said the University of California Davis researchers. In previous studies, PMS has been tenuously connected to ovarian hormone secretion, and even biologic, social, demographic, and behavioral factors.
A few investigations have made suggestive arguments for inflammation's role in period-related pain, but their sample populations heavily skewed toward younger, white women, and failed to find meaningful inflammation differences between women who did and did not report PMS symptoms.
The study's authors surveyed a group of 3,302 midlife women from seven clinical sites who represented five racial and ethnic groups. What their findings revealed was that CRP was positively associated with premenstrual mood symptoms by an increase of 26 to 41 percent, with the exception of headaches.
High-sensitivity CRP is often measured to evaluate someone's risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and stroke. As inflammation increases in the body, so does CRP in the bloodstream.
Most OTC treatments for PMS include some type of anti-inflammatory ingredient. Midol contains Naproxen, which is an effective non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. Pamprin, another common pain reliever, contains aspirin.
The team of researchers hopes that their findings will have clinical implications for the treatment of PMS-related inflammation, as well as the risk factors that can contribute to worsened symptoms.
"The majority of women experience at least some premenstrual symptoms" said Dr. Susan Kornstein, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Women's Health. "Recognizing an underlying inflammatory basis for PMS would open the door to additional treatment and prevention options and create a new opportunity for long-term risk intervention."